A/N: This is Where the Heart Is, prequel to A Lesson in Domesticity, but it is by no means necessary to read that story in order to understand this one. This is a prequel, after all. This story is already completed and each new chapter will be posted three days apart. In total, the word count is around 55k. Reviews are appreciated!

April 26th, 2014, 08:22

Location: Unknown

It was quiet, but it was not silent. Silence, Steve thought, did not really exist. There would always be noise, even if it was just the noise of his own breathing. At the moment, the noise was the breathing of the six Avengers, the drip drip drip of water from the leaky, rusted faucet in the corner of the cell, and the almost inaudible hum of Tony's arc reactor. The other man watched Steve intensely. Steve could feel his blue gaze boring holes into his face, but Steve would not meet his eyes. He already knew what he would find there. Determination. Resignation. Steve didn't want to see either of those things.

This was, he knew, the calm before the storm. Bruce sat in the corner opposite the faucet, doing some sort of breathing exercise. Natasha stood with Clint on the other side of the room, the pair of them looking like agents out of one of those James Bond films Tony had introduced him to, with Natasha still in her slinky, blue evening gown and Clint in his tux. Even after these two years of teamwork, Natasha kept one eye on Bruce. Steve couldn't blame her. If his mind weren't so focused on Tony, he'd be watching the big guy, too. Even Thor, who sat next to Bruce, did not seem entirely comfortable. The only one who had no concerns whatsoever about Bruce's state of mind (the only one who never did), was Tony, who sat on the cot, staring at Steve.

Steve wondered how he was managing to stay calm despite all this. Steve wondered if he was having flashbacks to his time in captivity—after all, this couldn't be much different. He'd probably slept on a dirty cot identical to the one on which he now rested, probably listened to the drip drip drip of a similar faucet, probably drove himself insane listening to the hum of first the electromagnet and then the arc reactor in the near silence of those caves. Near silence, Steve reasoned, the only type of silence a human could ever truly hear short of sleep or deafness, was much worse than silence. Near-silence was irritating, filled with all those little noises one usually ignored, usually did not realize were there. Near-silence, in the absence of other sound, drew attention to its own imperfection, and drew attention to the unrelenting cacophony of the world. If Steve had to be alone in a cave for months, the near-silence would drive him mad.

It was for this reason that Steve was the one to break the quiet.

"Stop looking at me like that, Tony," Steve said firmly. "I'm not letting you do this and that's final."

"One life or six billion, Steve," Tony replied. "And if we don't get that door open, we go down with the rest of the world, anyway."

"We'll think of another escape plan," Steve snapped.

"You forget you're talking to a genius, Rogers, if there was a better alternative, I would have already thought of it," Tony said, sounding just as irritated.

"I don't know why we're even considering this," Steve said angrily. "No one else backs you up on this, do they?" Steve sent out the challenge to the rest of the cell. He was met with silence. Steve looked at Tony, triumphant. "There. You're out voted."

They lapsed into tense near-silence once more, but not for long. Steve was not blind. He could see the look on his teammates' faces. Discomfort. Dismay. Dissent.

"Steve, you know that none of us want Tony to do this," Natasha spoke finally, and of course it would be Natasha. For her it was practical realities above emotional attachments, always. She spoke carefully, like there was a bomb in the room that might explode if she made one small mistake in speed or tone or word choice. Maybe that was exactly what would happen, though Steve didn't know if the explosion was going to come from him, from Bruce, or from Tony's chest.

"I heard a 'but' in there, and I'm not liking where this is going, Natasha," Steve said in a warning tone. Natasha's expression changed from soft to hard in an instant.

"None of us like where this going, Captain," she said. "But if we don't stop it, the Pulse will destroy this world. If that portal opens, we're done."

"Fuck Loki and his portals," Steve swore. Clint, Thor, and Tony all started a bit. It was one reason Steve rarely ever swore—when he did, they knew he meant business. "Nobody's dying on my watch, and sure as fuck nobody's ripping out their own goddamn heart!" Steve said it violently, vehemently, but he could see the glances his teammates shared.

He's making the wrong call.

His judgment is clouded.

We might have to knock him out.

Maybe Thor could restrain him.

Steve could practically hear their thoughts. He knew his teammates too well by now. Bruce, whose head was still resting on his knees, would be the only one to back Steve up, he knew. Bruce wouldn't let Tony do this, either.

"Technically speaking it's not my heart, it's an electromagnet—" Tony started, but Steve cut him off.

"Cut the shit Stark, I'm not in the mood for you to throw around technicalities—"

"It's an important technicality, Steve," Tony said seriously. "I'm not ripping out my heart, I'm ripping out the power source to a magnet that keeps shrapnel from entering my heart. Look, once I do this, I will have some time before… It's risky but I might not die."

"It's suicidal and you know it," Steve replied.

"Well then I'm dead if I do, and I'm dead if I don't, Rogers, because we're all dead if I don't," Tony said. "You don't have a better plan, and we're running out of time."

"Steve, he's got a point—"

"Shut up, Clint."

Steve felt a big, broad hand land on his shoulder. Thor stared down at him sorrowfully. He shook his head.

"We all love the man of iron, Captain, though not as you do. None wish to see him harmed. Least of all me, from my brother's terrible schemes. But you must see reason. There is no other way out."

"I think I'd just cut the wire." Steve remembered every moment he'd spent with Tony over the past two years, but their bad beginning stood in particular clarity. "Always a way out." He couldn't have been more wrong about Tony. Tony couldn't have been more right about him.

"This isn't reason, this is haste. We have to find an alternative," Steve demanded. "I won't let you do this. And neither will Bruce, will you, Dr. Banner?" Steve looked over to him. His forehead still rested on his knees, but he turned his head and regarded Steve with one eye. Steve's heart sank.

"Tony's right this time, Steve," Bruce said slowly. "We might be able to get him to another power source in time. We don't have another choice. There is no alternative." The cot squeaked loudly as Tony quickly moved to lie down.

"All right, let's get this over with. We've wasted enough time as it is," he said, unbuttoning his tuxedo shirt. Steve grabbed at his hands.

"No," he said. Tony smirked, but it was not as full of humor as it usually was.

"Now Captain, this is no time to get prudish," Tony said. Steve just stared at him. This was wrong. This was all wrong. Tony gently extricated his hands from Steve's, continuing to unbutton the tuxedo shirt.

There was so much that Steve wanted to say, needed to say. How could he say it, in this cramped little room where every drip could be heard and their teammates hovered around them? He was supposed to say it on a trip to Coney Island, or an evening on the beach, or after a motorbike ride through the countryside, or even just in bed. But this was all wrong. He felt himself being pulled back gently by Thor as Tony removed the shirt entirely.

"Bruce, can you—?" Tony asked, and Bruce got up and walked to his bedside as Tony, shirtless and propped up on his elbows, explained to him how to overload the locking mechanism on the door. It was simple science, science Bruce already knew, but Tony had to be sure. He had to be sure that if he was sacrificing his life, the plan would work.

Steve looked around the room. Clint, Natasha, Bruce, Thor, not to mention Tony himself—there was no way he could take all of them on. And even if he could, he would never know if it was the right decision. If they could get out of this room, they might stand a chance at saving the world. If they couldn't get out, then it was as bad as Natasha said. The Pulse would destroy it all. Steve left Thor's easy grasp and sat beside Tony on the cot.

"We do this, and I'm carrying you out. No damn arguments, Tony," Steve said fiercely. "I'm carrying you out, and Thor, Natasha, Bruce, and Clint can handle the situation temporarily while you and I find an alternate power source. Do you understand?"

"Steve, we have no idea what you'll be running into—"

"I said no arguments," Steve said. He leaned down and kissed Tony fiercely, and to the surprise of no one in the room except, perhaps, Tony, said, "I love you, you idiot. You're not dying on my watch."

"No one's ever called me an idiot in my life," Tony said, mock aghast. Or maybe he really was aghast, with that ego of his sometimes Steve couldn't tell the difference. He just rolled his eyes.

Tony wouldn't say it. Tony couldn't say it, shouldn't say it, under the circumstances. But that was ok. They would have plenty of time to get there. They would have time. They had to. Tony laid back on the cot. His hands shook as he slowly removed the arc reactor from its casing. Steve had never quite realized how deep it went into Tony's body. He wondered if it was painful, always painful. But then, it would be more painful once fully removed. A wire dangled between the reactor and the casing.

"Bruce?" Tony asked. Bruce gently took the reactor. Tony gripped the cord. He looked Steve in the eyes.

"Now, don't get us both killed on the way out," he joked.

"Not a chance," Steve replied, a lump building in his throat and panic seizing his chest in a way that reminded him terribly of his asthma attacks from before. He squeezed Tony's hand. Tony took a deep breath.

And then Tony Stark ripped out his heart.

July 22nd, 1944, 18:43

Location: London, England

The Red Lion Pub, Westminster

"I'm not sure if you're a strategic genius," said a familiar, silky voice from behind him, "or more reckless even than Howard Stark." Peggy pulled up a chair beside him and sat down. They were in a new pub, one that hadn't been caught in the blitz. Steve didn't like this one as much, but then, he'd never been great with change. Peggy just looked at him for a moment with a raised eyebrow, fully expecting an answer. For a minute, he just stared at her, drinking her in, with her full red lips, her glossy brown hair, and deep brown eyes. She was a work of art, and as improper as it was, he wanted nothing more than to strip her bare and see just how that sculpture worked all over. But more than that, Steve wanted to draw her, wanted to paint her, because there was an essence about her that could not be captured with words. She was more than alluring, more than magnetic—she was strong, she was sharply intelligent, and she had a good heart. Steve was going to marry her as soon as this war was won, he was sure of that, if only she'd have him.

Steve put down his drink. It wouldn't get him drunk anyway. Peggy knew that as well as he did. It couldn't numb the pain of losing Bucky, couldn't steel his nerves for the mission they would set off on the very next morning. Not that he would want it to, anyway. He had seen what relying on the drink could do to a person, could do to a family.

"Well I don't know about strategic genius," Steve said, "so it's probably the latter. But you know I wouldn't risk my boys unnecessarily. This is our best shot, Peggy. I really believe that."

"Oh, I didn't say I disagree with you," Peggy clarified. "I just think you might be mad."

"Mad times," Steve replied. Something changed in Peggy's expression. A small line appeared between her eyebrows.

"They are. Steve, I just want to make sure…this has nothing to do with Sergeant Barnes, does it?" Peggy asked cautiously. Steve smiled slightly.

"I'm not suicidal, Peggy," he said. "Even if I were, I wouldn't be endangering my men or my mission. I'd wait until the end of the war, see if I even lived through it first. But I think you'll remember that I'm kind of hoping for a different ending."

"Dancing," Peggy replied with a nod and a small, playful smile of her own. Steve wondered if dancing had become their own double entendre, just as he had thought fondue might have been between her and Howard.

"With the right partner," Steve added. In the most forward thing he'd ever done, he reached for Peggy's hand and squeezed it gently. Peggy just smiled, and then their conversation ceased as they listened to Jacques hit the piano and the other Howling Commandos start doing what they did best—well, second best, maybe, second to fighting—howling away at some bawdy tune that made Steve blush and Peggy roll her eyes.

Overall, it was a lovely, but unremarkable night. It was the last night Steve would ever see of 1944.

August 9th, 2012, 14:16

Location: New York City, NY, USA

Williamsburg Houses, Williamsburg, Brooklyn

"Live in Stark Tower?" Steve repeated. He still couldn't believe that Tony Stark was in his doorway. He looked all wrong standing there. He wore a dark suit with a blue shirt and tie. The tie alone probably cost more than Steve made in a month at his job as a sketch artist with the NYPD. Tony looked immensely out of place, standing on the old shag carpet (a phase of the seventies, Steve had been informed) in his Italian leather shoes.

"Yeah, Stark Tower. Live there. Bruce is already all moved in. Natasha and Clint are packing their stuff. Thor—well, he's got a room, but I doubt he'll be around much. I've heard it takes time and effort, you know, ruling whole planets," Tony removed his sunglasses and looked around the apartment, grimacing. "If you don't say yes in the next thirty seconds I will be deeply insulted because have you seen this place? Isn't this NYC Housing Authority housing? AKA 'the projects'? It's a good thing you're a super soldier or we might have to worry about you turning up in a ditch somewhere one of these days." Steve frowned, even though he saw what Tony saw. Hard sofas picked up at the local second-hand store that didn't match and hid suspicious stains on the undersides of the cushions, an empty mantel, bare walls, a kitchen with appliances so outdated they were nearly as old as Steve was.

"I like my apartment," he said. It wasn't a lie. The apartment was cozy enough, even if it smelled like cabbage half the time and pot from the guy next door the other half. It was old, like him. It was in Brooklyn. This apartment, specifically, had not been his, but he'd lived in the building before the war. Tony just snorted.

"Well that's the most hilarious thing I've heard all day. Come on, pack your bags, doesn't look like you have much here anyway—you're not bringing those couches they're a crime against humanity," Tony said with obvious disgust. Steve shook his head, and kept his temper in check. Throwing insults for Tony, Steve was beginning to realize, was like breathing. Unavoidable, necessary, and automatic.

"I like my apartment, Tony. I think I'll stay here. But thank you. It's a real nice offer," Steve said sincerely. But, true to his word, Tony looked offended.

"What—seriously?" It had never occurred to Tony, that much was clear, that his offer might be turned away. An apartment in Manhattan, with a nice view of the skyline, entirely rent-free—who would turn that away? A fool, of course. Or a kid from Brooklyn.

"Yes, seriously," Steve said stubbornly. "I like it here."

"Ok, but, look, first all that stuff in New York happened, and then we all went our separate ways and now—nothing. No contact. Doesn't it bother you? We're a team. We should be more team like. It just so happens that I've got this awesome clubhouse we can all live in together." Tony said. Steve scratched at the back of his head.

"I don't know, Tony," Steve said. "Look, I know you've been handling this nightmare with the press—"

"With no help from anyone else," Tony said, and Steve sensed more than a little bitterness in his tone. It was entirely justified, Steve couldn't deny that.

"—Which we all really appreciate. You're the…the public face and all. But uh, don't you think having us all in one tower in New York would be a little conspicuous? I mean, eventually Clint and Natasha and I won't have…um, not public faces."

"Are you trying to say that you have a secret identity?" Tony asked. Steve couldn't tell if Stark was disbelieving or amused, but Steve felt himself flush with embarrassment.

"Sort of," Steve mumbled. "And I—I'd rather not be Captain America all the time. Besides that, it's strategically flawed—you don't put all your heavy hitters in one location for extended periods of time."

"I have the best security of anyone in the nation, hell, the world, probably. And since no one knows who you are, no one's going to think twice about you coming and going from the building. No one needs to know you're all living there, except S.H.I.E.L.D. Hell I wouldn't even tell them except I know those two super spies already have," Tony said. Steve just shook his head.

"I really appreciate the offer, Tony, but I'm just going to stay here," he said, almost apologetically.

"Fine, Capsicle, just hang out here by yourself. Don't come join the clubhouse. What do I care?" he said, obviously annoyed. He opened the door to go.

"It's a really nice offer, Tony. Tony—" Steve tried in vain to salvage the situation, but Tony was already walking out the door and down the hall. Steve sighed as soon as Tony was out of sight. He didn't understand that man. Not one bit. It was a feeling he was entirely unfamiliar with.

Well, almost entirely.

December 18th, 1943, 15:35

Location: London, England

Cabinet War Rooms, Westminster

"I'm not sure if you're the bravest man in the Allied armies," Stark spoke, "or just the craziest." Stark handed him the shield. It was really a work of art as much as it was a defensive weapon. It was now shiny with a new paint job, all red, white, and blue, with a star right in the center. It was perfect.

"I don't do anything more than any of the other men do," Steve replied. Stark just laughed.

"Oh, I'm not talking about the war, Rogers, though no doubt what you just said is a lie," Stark said. He wiggled his eyebrows suggestively. "I'm talking about Peggy Carter."

"What about her?" Steve asked, baffled.

"Well, see, me, I flirt with her because, really, I can't help myself. Who could, around beauty like that? But you—you're sweet on her. There's a difference," Stark said. "See, I wouldn't expect anything. Except maybe a, uh, late night fondue. And that'd be it. But you—you seem to be pulling for the long haul. And with a dame like that?" Stark whistled. "Pal, you're just asking for a lifetime of 'yes dear'. She took three shots at you a week ago and—while I am not denying the incredible sexual appeal of that—you're still gunning for her. I think you're a bit touched in the head, my friend." Steve chuckled a bit.

"Peggy can hold her own. That's one of the best things about her. Anyone saying any different hasn't got his head screwed on right," he replied. Stark just shook his head with a grin.

"Whatever you say, pal. Just gotta say, better you than me," he said. Stark nodded to the shield. "How's it feel?"

"Like a million bucks," Steve said. Stark laughed again.

"Oh, it's a lot more than that," he said. Steve felt the blood drain from his face. Stark just kept on laughing, and he slapped Steve on the back. "And so were you, truth be told. All put together, you're a very expensive bit of military technology, Rogers." Stark leaned against the table and folded his arms, giving Steve a once-over. "And how's the new costume?" Steve rolled his eyes.

"Uniform. Just. Slightly more ostentatious," he said. Stark laughed again.

"Whatever you say, pal," he said again. Then he gave him another once-over. "But I've gotta say, I've never seen a military uniform that showed off an ass quite like that one does." Steve felt his face turn bright red, and Stark just kept on laughing. He was a very cheerful guy, considering they were at war. Steve figured it must have something to do with making piles and piles of cash off of military contracts.

"Well," said Steve dryly, for lack of anything else better to say, "perhaps they should." Stark grinned.

"Well, you'd like that wouldn't you?" he said. Steve panicked momentarily, before Stark admitted, "Don't worry. So would I." Which left Steve reeling just a bit. But then Stark just laughed again and told him to change back into his regular uniform. "Can't have everybody staring at that ass. They might go blind from its sheer, luminous perfection." But when Steve came back from changing, it was like nothing revolutionary had happened at all, like that small conversation never took place. Had it? Had it even meant anything? Stark was back to flirting with the secretary so fast it made Steve's head spin. So Steve didn't know. And he would never, Steve figured, quite understand Howard Stark.

August 13th, 2012, 16:17

Location: New York City, NY, USA

Stark Tower – Lobby, Manhattan

Steve felt immensely uncomfortable. This was only a slight distinction from the general level of discomfort Steve now felt on a daily basis, feeling like a foreigner in his own country, in his own hometown, but even so, Steve didn't like passing that general threshold.

He'd cleaned himself up as best he could, put on a new pair of black slacks, bought some dress shoes and a dress shirt. He'd left the leather jacket back at his apartment. He didn't want to look as out of place as he felt, in the middle of Manhattan, walking into Stark Tower.

He'd tried to call Tony to tell him he was coming, but Tony's number wasn't in his contacts list on the SHIELD issued cell phone he had. In fact, there were only four contacts in that phone: Natasha, Clint, Fury, and his supervisor at NYPD. Fury had told him that if he ever called him for anything other than a dire emergency, he'd tan his hide. Actually, the phrasing had been more creative than that, something about being strung up by his toes and dragged by the helicarrier. Natasha and Clint were, likewise, work contacts. He'd thought about putting Peggy's number in his phone, but he didn't think she would appreciate a random call from a long dead flame-that-wasn't. Everyone else was dead.

So, lacking a number, Steve did the most logical thing he could think of—he walked into Stark Tower and went straight up to the reception desk. A brunette woman with hair that was slicked back into a perfect bun gazed up at him from under her square, black glasses with apparent disdain.

"Can I help you?" she asked, sounding for all the world like Steve's very presence was a nuisance. It was funny, Steve hadn't gotten that response from a woman since before the serum. He appreciated the change of pace.

"Yes, I'm looking for Tony Stark?" Steve said. The woman stared at him for a moment. Steve stared right back, putting his hands in his pockets.

"Sir, I don't have time for practical jokes. Can I help you with something?" she said at last.

"It's not a joke, I'd like to speak with him," Steve said insistently. She looked him up and down carefully.

"Just so I can say I'm doing my job, do you have an appointment?"

"Well, no, but—"

"If you don't have an appointment, then I can't help you. Please leave the premises," she said.

"Ma'am, I understand that you're just doing your job, but I'd really appreciate it if you could tell him—"

"I do not leave messages for the CEO. Nor am I Iron Man's publicist. I'm the receptionist for Stark Industries, New York Offices. If you have business with our division, state it. Otherwise, I have to ask you again to leave the premises," the receptionist said coolly.

"But he lives here," Steve said. "Can't you just—isn't there a buzzer or something…?" The look the woman gave Steve made him nearly wince with his own stupidity. Of course he couldn't just waltz in and talk to Tony. She thought he was crazy, no doubt about that. He was crazy. There were no buzzers in a building like this, with a man as important as Tony Stark.

"If you want to speak with Mr. Stark, I suggest you contact his personal assistant," the receptionist said sharply. "I will not ask you again to leave the premises."

"Look, I know how this must sound, but I know the guy—"

"You and half of New York if the crazy people I have to deal with day in and day out are any indication," the receptionist snapped. Steve hadn't seen her press a button, but two very large men (larger than Steve, which Steve found impressive) in suits started towards him.

"Could you just tell him Steve Rogers is waiting in reception? Please?" Steve asked. The receptionist just stared back at him blandly.

"I am not," she said, as Steve felt two big hands grip his arms, "Mr. Stark's personal secretary." Steve felt himself being steered towards the door ("Let's go, pal," one of the guards said, confirming to Steve that he was living in a C-list action film) just as a redhead in deadly heels approached the counter. Steve wished it was Natasha, but this woman's hair was too light.

"What about Mr. Stark's personal secretary?" she asked. "Did you need something, Amelia?" Mr. Stark's personal secretary. Steve easily twisted out of the guards' hold and turned around.

"Pepper Potts? It's Miss Potts, right?" Steve asked. The redheaded woman looked up at him. She squinted at him a little, trying to place him, Steve knew. She was very pretty, which was really no surprise. Rumor had it, though Steve hated to listen to gossip, that she was Stark's sweetheart. One of the guards grabbed him again, more forcefully this time, but Steve yanked away. People had stopped going about their business to watch now. "I'm Steve—" The other guard grabbed him, and Steve had to twist out of his grasp again. "—Rogers. Look I just came by to apologize—" Both of the guards grabbed him at once, and Steve had to weasel his way out from their grip again. One guard yanked him back hard enough to put him on the ground. Steve, not expecting such a violent reaction, fell backwards, hitting his head on the floor.

"Theodore!" he heard Miss Potts admonish. Steve got up easily, rubbing the sore spot on his head.

"I'm sorry, ma'am, I don't mean to cause any trouble," Steve said, feeling rather humiliated. What had he been thinking? "I'll get going. I'd appreciate it if you'd tell Tony I was here, but I'll understand if you don't. I'll be going now."

"No, no—Theodore stop—Captain Rogers, you can come with me, I'll take you to Tony," Miss Potts said quickly.

"Why didn't you say you were military?" the receptionist demanded.

"I—" Steve had nothing to say for himself, so he was grateful when Miss Potts tugged on his arm gently, leading him into the elevator. As soon as the doors were shut behind them, Miss Potts regarded him with an amused expression, but said nothing. Steve felt even more intensely uncomfortable. This had been a terrible idea.

"I don't know what I was thinking," Steve said apologetically. "I didn't mean to cause a scene, ma'am. I just want to apologize to Tony. I didn't like how we left things last Thursday,"

"Why didn't you call?" Miss Potts asked.

"I don't have his number," Steve admitted, embarrassed. "Or your number. I'm really sorry, Miss Potts—"

"Pepper, please, Captain Rogers," Pepper said. Steve nodded.

"Steve, please, Pepper," Steve said.

"Steve it is. It's nice to meet you. Tony's said a lot about you," Pepper said. Steve laughed.

"That's a very diplomatic way of putting it, I'm sure. I can see why he hired you in the first place," Steve said. "It's very nice to meet you, Pepper." Pepper smiled.

The elevator finally chimed and the doors opened, revealing the opulent penthouse Steve remembered from those few brief moments just two months ago, though the penthouse looked decidedly less smashed now. Tony was flipping through a hologram on a table, and boy, there just really was no escaping this crazy science fiction future that was now his reality. Tony was dressed informally, in sweats and a Black Sabbath t-shirt (was it a band? A movie? An inside joke? A cult? Steve had no idea) that clung insistently to his lean form and was thin enough that the arc reactor shone through. For a man in his forties, Tony Stark was well put together.

"Pepper I thought you were going to that—" Tony started, until he looked up and saw the two of them. One corner of his mouth curled downwards.

"Oh. Rogers. What are you doing here?" he asked.

"I just wanted to apologize, Tony," Steve said. Tony's eyebrows stuck together.

"What for?" he asked.

"Thursday," Steve said. "It was really nice—your offer—and I really didn't mean to offend you—"

"Water under the bridge, Cap," Tony said, waving it off. "Weren't you going to that thing, Pep?"

"I thought I'd bring the Captain up here. He was having a little trouble at reception," Pepper said. Steve felt himself blush.

"Reception? Why didn't you just call?" Tony asked, baffled.

"I don't have your number," Steve admitted. "Look, Tony—"

"Hey, Pep, while you're here, you mind taking a look at these financials R&D just sent up?" Tony asked, holding out a tablet that he picked up off a table.

"I'm going, Tony. One of us has to be at that meeting," Pepper reminded him. Tony snorted.

"Better you than me. All right, bye then, Pepper. Captain," Tony said with a nod. He went back to the hologram. Steve knew a dismissal when he heard one. Resigned, he followed Pepper back into the elevator. He still didn't feel right about things. The doors to the elevator shut and he could feel Pepper watching him.

"Sorry again to have caused so much trouble, ma'am," Steve said, not looking at her. He felt far too humiliated. Why had he thought this was a good idea? Why had he thought a man like Tony Stark would have time for a guy like Steve Rogers? Of course he was busy. Of course he didn't have time to listen to an apology. Of course Steve was a nuisance. He should have seen that coming.

"Can I ask you something?" Pepper asked. Steve looked at her. She an honest, open face. Steve nodded.

"Of course," he said.

"Why didn't you want to come live in Stark Tower?" she asked. Steve sighed.

"I like Brooklyn, ma'am. I've never lived outside Brooklyn, unless you count my time overseas in the war," Steve said. "It's changed a lot. I hardly recognize it. But it's still Brooklyn. It's still home. It's all I have left." Steve hadn't meant to say that last sentence. It just sort of slipped out. He averted his gaze, blushing again.

"With your permission, I'd like to tell Tony that," Pepper said evenly, not revealing anything. "I think he misunderstood your reasoning. He took it rather personally." Steve shrugged. He did mind, a bit. It was rather personal. It was more personal than he'd meant to say in the first place. But he didn't want Tony angry with him. The man was a pain enough to work with in a genial mood.

"Sure, Pepper," Steve said just as the elevator stopped and the doors opened. "I really didn't mean to be offensive by it. It really was a nice offer."

"I'll make sure he knows," Pepper said. "Oh, and you should give me your number so this doesn't happen again." Steve smiled tightly.

"Of course," he said. He rattled off the number. Pepper promised to text him later, though he wasn't exactly sure what that meant, and then they went their separate ways. Steve took the subway to get out of Manhattan as fast as he could.

August 17th, 2012, 20:15

Location: New York City, NY, USA

Stark Tower – Penthouse, Manhattan

Steve had not expected to be back at Stark Tower so soon after his humiliating encounter with security, not to mention his embarrassing dismissal by Tony. But Pepper had texted him (it was like a telegram, only via phone, Steve discovered) and asked him to attend a little house warming party for Natasha, Bruce, Clint, and of course herself and Tony. Steve thought about politely refusing a thousand different times, in a thousand different ways.

Sorry, Pepper, I have already made plans for that evening. That was a lie, and hardly believable, anyway. Thank you for the invitation, Miss Potts, but I must respectfully decline due to previous obligations. Way too formal, and still a lie. Sorry Pepper, but I'm just not in the mood for a party. Selfish. Sorry, Pepper, but I don't think Tony wants me there. This was true. This was the obstacle. But he couldn't say it. So he instead he sent off another text.

Of course I'll be there. Thank you for the invitation.

Steve immediately wanted to take it back, but he couldn't. To his knowledge, there were still no 'unsend' buttons in the future. He stewed over it for days after. He thought about cancelling on the day of. He thought about claiming to be ill (a lie, again, and far too see-through; he was a super soldier. He didn't get sick.), thought about just not going and claiming to have forgotten afterwards (another lie), thought about saying a friend was sick and he needed to look after them (another lie, and even more see through—he had no friends, and that was obvious). In the end, Steve couldn't do it, not when Pepper had been so unnecessarily kind to him, so he pulled on his khakis and brown leather jacket, and headed over to Stark Tower once more.

This time, at least, the entrance was less awkward. It was after working hours, so the only people in the building were the secretary (a different one, thank goodness), the guards, and a few people working late. This time, Steve had been instructed to go directly to the elevator and punch in a specific code. It took him all the way to the penthouse again, to a small party already in full swing.

There was, of course, Natasha, Clint, Tony, Bruce, and Pepper, but there was also Coulson, Agent Hill, and various people Steve didn't recognize. Tony's friends, Steve figured. Everyone was dressed elegantly, and Steve felt instantly out of place again. Why hadn't Pepper told him it was a formal party? He would have at least put on his black slacks again.

Everyone had a glass of champagne in their hands, and they milled about in happy conversation as soft jazz music played overhead. Steve noticed that Clint lingered by the snack bar. Natasha lingered by Clint. Pepper was chatting with Coulson, Agent Hill with Natasha, and the various people he didn't recognize were all in conversations as well. Steve felt like an intruder, and as he stepped out of the elevator, no one seemed to notice. Was he late? Had he been given the wrong time? A man Steve didn't know approached him. He was a decent sized guy, and he walked with a very straight posture. Army, Steve would bet his life on it.

"Captain Rogers, I presume?" the man said. Steve nodded. Yeah, he was definitely army.

"That would be me," Steve said. The man held out his hand, which Steve took.

"It's an absolute honor to meet you, sir. I'm Lieutenant Colonel James Rhodes," the man said. "But everyone calls me Rhodey, sir." Steve smiled slightly.

"Don't know why you're addressing me as sir, Lieutenant Colonel," Steve said. "You outrank me. I'm off-duty, though. Off everything, actually. So it's just Steve. Nice to meet you, Rhodey." Rhodey smiled back, showing off his pearly white teeth.

"I'm surprised you're here, to be completely honest," Rhodey said, migrating slowly back to the rest of the party. Steve followed somewhat reluctantly. "Tony gave me the impression you two didn't get along."

"That'd be the correct impression," Steve admitted. "We don't. Pepper invited me. I don't think he wants me here, but I didn't want to disrespect Miss Potts."

"Tony can be a bit much sometimes," Rhodey agreed, "but I'm sure he doesn't mind you being here. I mean come on, you're Captain America." Steve chuckled.

"I think that's exactly what he dislikes about me," Steve said. Rhodey gave him a curious look, but he dropped the subject. He grabbed a flute of champagne from the bar and handed it over. Steve took it.

"So, how are you finding the twenty-first century, Steve?" he asked. Steve did his best to smile.

"Oh, it's…interesting," he said. Rhodey just nodded, watching him. He looked concerned. It made Steve uncomfortable. He needed to get more convincing about the whole 'this century isn't entirely miserable' thing.

"Well, I'm sure you haven't been introduced to the best bits yet. Have you discovered the internet?" Rhodey asked.

"I have one of those portable computers—a laptop, I think?—Agent Barishnikov went over all the basics. I haven't used it much," Steve said. "But it's useful for looking things up, I've figured that much out, at least."

"How about Netflix?" At Steve's confused look, Rhodey went, "Oh, man, you know you've missed almost a whole century of great films, Netflix would be perfect for you—"

They sat down on a comfortable leather couch. Steve took off his jacket, relaxing a bit more while Rhodey launched into an explanation of Netflix, and recommended some movies he thought Steve might like—Master and Commander, Patton, Letters from Iwo Jima, The Hurt Locker, The Patriot, Black Hawk Down, The Pianist—they were all war films, Steve would discover later as he looked them up and decided against watching any of them. Two of the films Rhodey listed, All Quiet on the Western Front and Sergeant York, Steve had actually seen, and they had a lively conversation about that for a while. Steve felt more comfortable with Rhodey than he had with anyone else yet this century. The other man was lively, funny, welcoming, and best of all, military. He understood. But inevitably, someone else came over and interrupted, as is the norm for parties.

"Capsicle!" Tony said as he clapped Rhodey on the back. "I didn't know you were coming." Steve could see the warning looks Rhodey was sending Tony. He knew all about that type of silent communication. Steve and Bucky had talked more without words than with them.

"Pepper invited me," Steve explained.

"Oh, I see how it is. You'll come for my girlfriend, but not for me," Tony said. It sounded like it might have been a joke, but Steve felt the need to defend himself.

"No, that's not—"

"You didn't invite him, Tony," Rhodey said, doing his best to defuse the situation. Steve spotted Pepper, who was now chatting with Natasha, and tried to catch her eye.

"I did. I invited him to come and be part of all this, but Capsicle here thinks the whole idea is one major security risk," Tony said. Steve shook his head morosely.

"That's really not it—"

"No, I guess it's not, is it? Why don't you just admit that you think you're better than us?"

"What?" Steve asked, truly taken aback. Pepper, who had noticed by this point (everyone had noticed by this point; Tony wasn't precisely quiet), quickly made her way over to them. Tony just continued on vehemently,

"It's pretty obvious, Captain. You just can't stand the thought of moving in with such inferior people, can you? Can't stand the thought of co-habitating with people with such loose moral values—"

"Tony, that's not—" Steve tried to say, but Tony cut him off.

"—and I bet you just can't stand the thought of having to work with us again, either—"

"Tony, that's enough," Rhodey said.

"—so I don't know why you bothered to show up. So why don't you just go back to your friends in Brooklyn?" Steve stilled. Everyone was staring at them. Pepper had managed to grab Tony's arm, and she was whispering furiously to him. Steve set down his half-full champagne glass on a coffee table and got up.

"I didn't realize I was so unwelcome here," Steve said calmly. He knew Tony hadn't wanted him there, but he still felt stung. Had he really come across that badly? "I apologize. I wouldn't have come if I'd realized. I meant no offense to you, Mr. Stark, either by coming here tonight or by turning down your very generous offer. I tried to apologize earlier this week, you will recall. I certainly don't know what you're talking about, in regards to loose moral values or to working with the team. I've never worked with finer men—or women—than I do now, and that's saying something. The Howling Commandos, my last team, were great men." Steve picked up his jacket and shrugged it on. "As to my friends in Brooklyn, I don't know who you're talking about. If you haven't noticed, it's been a while since I was last in town. All my friends are dead." Like I should be.

He felt, more than heard, the whole party go silent at that. Well, he'd effectively ruined this shindig. He felt awful. He never should have showed up. He should have said he was sick, should have just told Pepper no. Instead he'd caused a big scene. Steve sent an apologetic glance to a horrified looking Pepper before heading for the elevator. He couldn't get away fast enough.

August 18th, 2012, 08:00

Location: New York City, NY, USA

Williamsburg Houses, Williamsburg, Brooklyn

Maybe he should have been expecting it, but he was surprised when his doorbell rang. Steve, of course, had already been up for several hours. He'd gone to workout in the gym at five, and he'd been back in his apartment since seven. He was just about to get started on making second breakfast (a super soldier had to eat quite a lot, after all) when the bell rang. Cautiously, Steve went over and opened the door just a crack, the latch still done up.

There stood a rumpled looking Tony Stark, still in his white suit and pink shirt from the night before, sunglasses just slightly askew on his face, undoubtedly hiding eyes red from drink and a lack of sleep. He carried a box labeled Randy's Donuts. Steve started to shut the door again, but Stark put his hand on the door and pushed, to stop him. Of course, if Steve had really, really wanted to shut the door, that wouldn't have stopped him in the least, but Stark's insistence gave him pause.

"Look I'm not good at this sort of thing but Pepper will kill me if I don't apologize. She might actually buy an Iron Maiden and stuff me inside. A fitting end to Iron Man," Stark rambled. Steve started to shut the door again, and Stark pushed back. "I brought donuts! Come on, you've got to like donuts. Not liking donuts would be un-American, and you're Captain America so it's not possible that you don't like donuts. Come on, it's, what? Eight? It's breakfast time, don't tell me you aren't hungry." Steve started to shut the door again, but his traitor stomach growled. "Come on, Rogers, let me in, just give me five minutes—" Steve sighed, shut the door for real, undid the latch, and opened it up again, to see Stark's disappearing back.

"Stark," Steve called. Stark turned around, surprised. "Five minutes." Stark came inside and set the donuts on the table as Steve shut the door. Stark opened the box.

"I got one of all the classics, I didn't know what your favorite was. There's a Boston crème pie, and a bearclaw, and tiger tails, and chocolate glaze, and just plain glaze and something with jelly and—well, I have no idea what this is actually but it's probably tasty—" Stark said all of this very quickly. To shut him up, Steve reached into the box and plucked out the plain glaze. "Plain? Really? You would—" Steve raised an eyebrow. "Right, yeah, apologies don't usually include insults, do they? Right. So, can we just say I've apologized? Because that's why I came here. With donuts. From California. To apologize. It's a peace offering. I was rude last night. I apologize."

"Thanks for the donuts," Steve said with a nod. "You can tell Pepper you've apologized." Tony looked at him suspiciously.

"So…that's it? We're good, then?" Stark asked.

"I don't know Tony, were we good when you told me the whole Stark Tower thing was water under the bridge?" Steve asked irritably. Stark winced.

"Ok, yeah, fair enough. Look, how can I make this up to you? You want better couches? Because seriously those couches are—" Stark shut up. Steve's glare probably had something to do with that. "Right. Sorry. Insults." Steve rolled his eyes.

"You just can't speak like a normal human being, can you?" he asked. Stark looked up, as if in thought for a moment.

"No. Nope. Don't think I can," Stark replied. "Does that mean I'm forgiven? Because I really can't help it. Zebra can't change its spots, giraffe can't change its stripes, and all that."

"It's the other way around—never mind. Look, Tony, I said I was sorry about the Tower thing. I like it here in Brooklyn. I'm sorry if that upsets you, but it has nothing to do with you. Not everything does," Steve said. Perhaps he didn't have to be so biting about it, but he wasn't feeling particularly generous today.

"I know, I know, I was a jerk. Am I forgiven yet?" Tony asked. He looked up at Steve, his big brown eyes wide, like a puppy. Steve just laughed and shook his head.

"Yeah, sure, whatever," he said. Stark sighed in exaggerated relief.

"Oh, good. I'm safe from the Iron Maiden," Tony said. Then he grinned. "The Iron Maiden—maybe that should be Pepper's new nickname."

"Only if you don't overly value your testicles," Steve said with a snort.

"Was that a joke? Did Spangles just joke? And I was the only witness? No one will believe me!" Tony said. Steve just rolled his eyes again. He tended to do that in Stark's presence. Tony took a donut from the box and headed for the door. He turned around just as he opened it. "Oh, and uh, about the whole, 'all my friends are dead thing' which, Jesus, Rogers, morbid much? Anyway not all your friends are dead. Last time I checked, there were quite a few of them living in Stark Tower. Just something to think about." Tony waltzed out the door after that, leaving Steve with donuts and conflicted feelings.

So, just a regular encounter with Tony Stark.

September 2nd, 2012, 22:43

Location: San Francisco, CA, USA

Golden Gate Bridge

"I think we did ok!" Tony said, lifting up his faceplate. Steve looked at the bridge, the Golden Gate Bridge. Half of it was collapsed in the water. Sirens rang out through the night as firefighters and ambulances rushed to put out fires and tend to victims. The air smelled of smoke.

"I think," said Steve, "that we need to train, as a team, and not just come together in emergency situations." Sure, they'd managed to capture all the Bildshnipe that had been released to cause havoc in San Francisco, but not without a rather lot of collateral damage.

"But we did ok, right?"

Steve just sighed.

September 15th, 2012, 09:33

Location: New York City, NY, USA

Triskelion – Gym, Manhattan

Steve was not a fan of working out in, or being anywhere near, the Triskelion. It was the place where he'd woken up, the place where he thought he'd been captured by HYDRA or the Nazis. It was not a place with good memories. But it had the most state-of-the-art gym and was thus the best place for the Avengers to practice all together. Well, all together without Thor, but that was how it usually went. Stark was, as per usual, fighting in his armor.

"Set phasers to stun," he'd joked the first time he'd brought it to the gym, but Steve didn't understand what was funny. Bruce laughed, though. Stark had set up his weaponry to just throw out bursts of light in training mode. Steve watched him and Natasha spar for a minute, until Stark managed to 'blast' her with some light, ending the match.

"Stark," Steve called out. Tony turned towards him and lifted the faceplate.

"Yeah?"

"Take off the suit," he said.

"Is Steve Rogers asking me to strip? Naughty, naughty, Captain, I didn't know you swung that way," Tony said.

"Yeah, well, you don't know a lot about me. Take off the suit," Steve said, ignoring Stark's antics. Natasha went off to practice with Clint while Stark took off the armor.

"So what's this about O Captain, My Captain?" Stark asked.

"You know the Captain's dead, right?" Steve asked.

"What?"

"In the poem. The Captain is dead," Steve said.

"Oh, that's not—never mind. What's this about?" Tony asked.

"You fight well in the suit," Steve said, "but out of it you're a liability. I don't think we're ever going to get you up to the level of Clint or Natasha, but you could use some basic hand to hand training."

"I've had hand to hand training. Happy boxes with me. He used to be a boxing champ, did you know that?" Tony said. Steve shook his head.

"Boxing isn't the same as hand to hand, Tony. There are no rules in hand to hand," Steve said. Tony finished divesting himself of the armor, leaning down to put the now compact suitcase next to the wall, out of the way. Stark had a very good physique for a man his age. Hell, he had a good physique for a man of any age. He wasn't a body builder, he had more of a lean build, but his muscling was nothing to scoff at. It wasn't his muscling Steve was admiring, though, as Stark leaned over to put that suitcase by the wall. It had to be said: Stark was an ass, but he also had a mighty fine one.

Steve shook the thought off and looked away before he caused himself an embarrassing situation. This century might be more open to people of his persuasion, but it was still rather inappropriate to overly enjoy the body of your teammate, especially your teammate with a serious girlfriend who isn't exactly fond of you and whom you were not particularly fond of either. Tony stood up and turned around, facing him.

"So, Cap, are you playing Mr. Miyagi to my LaRusso today or are you throwing me straight to the assassins?" Tony asked.

"Um, I'm going to teach you first," Steve said, puzzling out what Stark had said. Eighty percent of the time he felt like he literally didn't understand the other man. Either he was referencing something Steve had never heard of, or he was spitting techno-babble so complex only Bruce knew what he was talking about, though of course sometimes even Bruce's eyes glazed over, uncomprehending.

"Gandalf," Stark explained. "You're playing Gandalf to my…I really don't want to be Frodo in this situation. Besides those came out after you, right? Let's go with Bilbo. Bilbo's better. Bilbo's the shit. I'll be Bilbo."

"Gandalf didn't teach Bilbo to fight," Steve said, stepping onto the blue mats they had set up on the floor for hand-to-hand practice.

"Well now you're being deliberately obtuse," Stark said, rolling his eyes and joining him on the mats. Steve got into a fighting stance.

"Who's Frodo?"

"Oh, so you haven't read those yet, just as I thought—and the films!—Cap I think you're going to like this century more than you th—aagh!" Tony cut off in a muffled grunt as Steve kicked his feet out from under him, and he fell to the floor. Tony glowered up at him. "The hell was that for?" Steve just grinned.

"No rules in hand to hand, Tony," he said.

"I'll show you no rules," Tony grumbled, coming back up, swinging.

By the end of it all, Stark was panting. Cap had shouted 'paralyzed', 'incapacitated', and 'dead' several times through the session, and ended by physically sitting on top of Tony, if only for a moment, before he got up and offered the other man his hand, which he gratefully took. Clint and Natasha stood nearby, waiting for them so they could go to lunch together (and, of course, laughing at Stark stuck on the ground with Steve sitting lightly on his back). Tony got up, Steve heaving him to his feet.

"I'm going to feel that in the morning. Jesus, Rogers, you sure know how to give a guy a pounding," Stark said, wincing in pain and rubbing a spot on his back.

"Stark, if I'd given you a pounding, you'd be feeling it someplace different entirely, and you'd have trouble walking in the morning," Steve said before he'd even realized he'd said it. Stark stared at him. Steve stared blandly back, deciding to stand his ground, fighting off a blush. Clint didn't stop laughing for a full fifteen minutes after, by which point his sides were cramping. Even Natasha had to bite her lip and cover her mouth to keep from cracking up. Tony just stared at Steve in disbelief. Steve clapped him on the shoulder.

"So, shawarma, then?"

May 25th, 1941, 07:45

Location: New York City, NY, USA

Ten Eyck Houses, Williamsburg, Brooklyn

"Yeah, I'm definitely feeling that this morning," Bucky said with an unhappy moan. He flopped on top of the bed, half on top and half beside Steve on the little twin bed that did not hold them both well. With the two of them so close the bed warmed up quickly, accelerated by the muggy morning heat of a Brooklyn spring day. "Can you please decide not to start shit with guys four times your size and twice mine?"

"You don't have to come after me, I can handle myself," Steve said stubbornly.

"Yeah, but, I prefer you in a state of not a bloody pulp," Bucky said. He groaned, touching the spot on his face that was already red and swollen. "Ugh, that guy ruined my gorgeous face. There goes my chances with the dames."

"Good, now get out of my bed, you're like an oven or something," Steve said, giving him a light, playful shove.

"Does my loyalty mean nothing to you?" Bucky asked, mock offended.

"It'd mean a lot more if you didn't wake me up early on a Sunday," Steve said dryly, rubbing the sleep from his eyes. Bucky grinned and got up from the bed, stretching as he went.

"Well, I figured I'd get up early and do some other things since our afternoon's already full," Bucky said.

"Full? What are we doing this afternoon?" Steve asked, fighting the urge to put a pillow over his head and go back to sleep.

"We are going to Ebbets field. Don't you remember? Dodgers versus the Phillies?" Bucky asked. Suddenly, the thought came back to Steve.

"Oh yeah. But you know what I wanted to do this morning?" Steve asked.

"No, what?" Steve threw a pillow in Bucky's face.

"Sleep!"

September 15th, 2012, 12:14

Location: New York City, NY, USA

Some Shawarma Joint, Manhattan

"I mean, you walked straight into that one, Stark," Clint said. Steve took a big bite of his shawarma. It was, actually, really good food. "Actually you didn't just walk, you set up a whole room of booby traps yourself and then begged Rogers to gently push you inside."

"Rogers is from the forties. He's not supposed to be capable of making gay sex jokes," Stark said indignantly. Steve snorted and nearly choked on his shawarma. "He's supposed to be all purity rings and 'good clean fun' and apple pie and Protestantism."

"I'm Catholic, actually," Steve corrected once he'd swallowed his bite. "But I do love apple pie. Sounds to me like you've swallowed one too many newsreels, Stark." Stark just grumbled something under his breath, disgruntled.

"So were all of those completely fake?" Clint asked, sounding curious. "Did they shoot them all in Hollywood?" Steve shook his head.

"Not all of them," Steve admitted. "I did a lot of filming in Hollywood just before the USO Tour, but afterwards, after the rescue mission, I mean, they sent a couple of guys with cameras to get a bit of real footage."

"The rescue mission—you mean the one where you saved like four hundred guys single-handed?" Clint asked. Steve felt himself blush. He wished he didn't blush so easily.

"I wasn't single-handed, really. Howard Stark flew me out to the front. He was crazy, taking on that airspace, but it was like it was nothing to him. Meant I didn't have to walk to Poland," Steve said, smiling slightly. "And Peggy Carter was the one who convinced him to do it—convinced me, in the first place, that I could do more than be a dancing monkey on the USO tour. And then, once I'd gotten into the facility, I just had to steal some keys and then I had four hundred guys for back up."

"'I just had to steal some keys'," Clint repeated. "Rogers, you're crazy." Steve smiled slightly.

"You know, that's not the first time I've heard that," he said.

"What made you go?" Natasha asked. It was strange, having everyone so focused on him. Usually during their outings, Steve was essentially silent. He liked to listen to everyone. He liked to hear Bruce and Tony discuss things no one understood while Clint and Natasha bet on how long it was going to be before Stark managed to get Bruce to hulk out (it had not, thankfully, happened yet). He liked to hear Natasha describe the Russian ballet, liked to listen to Clint's stories about espionage escapades gone wrong, liked to hear Bruce rant about the conditions in the so-called third world, liked to listen to Clint and Tony argue about various things from pop culture, none of which he understood any better than his and Bruce's science talk. It was nice. It was comfortable. They had never asked him questions before, but now they all watched him.

"On the rescue mission?" Steve asked. Natasha nodded. "Wish I could say it was selflessness and a sudden realization of my duty in the war, but it wasn't. I was on tour in Italy. The guys—you know, they didn't want some clown in tights acting in some half-rate vaudeville show meant for little kids. They basically booed me off the stage and I can't say I blamed them. Afterwards, Peggy told me not to, in case I did, that they'd just lost most of their men, the men of the 107th." Steve paused for a moment, remembering that day. For him, it hadn't even been a year ago yet. He remembered the rain, remembered the mud, remembered that one guy mooning him, remembered Peggy's bright red lipstick, remembered how she'd challenged him to do more, to be more, remembered the utter terror that gripped him when she said the 107th. Steve didn't realize he'd stopped for an inordinate amount of time until Natasha gently prompted him.

"And what then?" she asked.

"My best friend was in the 107th," Steve said. "James Barnes—Bucky. We grew up together. I didn't know if he'd been captured or if he was dead, but I owed it to him to find out. He was always getting me out of scrapes back home when I decided to take on guys three times my size. It was my turn to repay the favor. Four hundred men or four—or one—I would've gone in that day anyway, just to bring him back." The table went quiet as Steve fell silent.

I've killed the party again, Steve thought guiltily. He couldn't stand the looks his teammates were giving him. They were all carefully constructed, so as not to reveal too much, but their careful construction revealed everything anyway. He hated this tense, loaded silence. He resolved not to talk much at these outings ever again. He would just be a wet blanket if he did.

"What happened to him?" Stark asked. It must have been written all over his face, Steve figured. He shrugged.

"It was the second world war. He died," Steve said shortly. "That was four months ago." Then Steve shook himself. "No, uh, I guess that was sixty-eight years ago. Sixty-eight years ago, in July."

"But it's four months for you," Natasha said, sounding contemplative.

"Haven't you only been in this century four months?" Bruce asked.

"He died July 18th. My plane went down on the 23rd," Steve explained.

"Well now you're getting your own history wrong in the semantics, Captain," Stark said, sounding pleased to know something, pleased to be more right than even he was about his own life, even if it was just through a technicality. "Your plane didn't go down, Dad told me several times as a kid, he was ticked because if they'd managed to get through to him in time they could have saved that plane for research not to mention you. You forced it—" Stark cut off suddenly. Steve could see the gears in his head whizzing a mile a minute, could see his eyes widen almost imperceptibly. He could see the same thought click into place for everyone else at the table.

"There were bombs on board," Steve said defensively. "I had no idea how to turn that thing around. It was moving like your suit does, Tony, and it was headed straight for New York. We had no time to figure out how to turn it around, and no time to evacuate the city."

"Of course," Tony said evenly. But Steve could still feel his eyes studying his face, could still feel the intense stares of Natasha and Clint and Bruce.

Is he mentally stable?

Is he fit to lead?

Steve couldn't take it. The weight of everyone's stares was unbearable. The silence (the near-silence) was maddening. No more talk of the forties, ever again, he thought. He hated feeling like this—bare, open, exposed. Hated putting himself up for examination. He never wanted to feel like this again. He looked at his watch. 12:32. He had nothing going on, nothing for the entire rest of the day. It was a Saturday, and he didn't have a social life. So, he'd just have to make something up.

"Anyway I've got to get going. I told Mrs. Carmichael I'd help her get a dresser up to her apartment around one. I'll see you guys next Saturday," Steve said. He threw some cash for his lunch on the table and left as the other Avengers said quiet, anxious goodbyes.

It was too much.

May 25th, 1941, 10:33

Location: New York City, NY, USA

Near Ten Eyck Houses, Williamsburg, Brooklyn

In Transit to Ebbets Field

"I cannot wait for a ballpark dog," Bucky said wistfully. "How long's it been since we've been out to Ebbets, anyway?"

"Last time was just three weeks ago! Dodgers versus the Cubs," Steve said, laughing.

"Good morning, boys!" called Mrs. O'Malia, one of their many neighbors. Bucky waved.

"Good morning, Mrs. O'Malia!" Steve called back with a smile. He liked Mrs. O'Malia. She'd always had an extra sweet or two on hand for him and Bucky when they were growing up. Her sons, though, were terrors, and it was rumored that her husband and eldest son were two of the last surviving members of the White Hand gang.

"It can't have been just three weeks ago," Bucky disagreed. "It feels like so much longer than that."

"It was just three weeks, Buck," Steve said. "I think you're just getting cabin fever." Bucky grimaced.

"Yeah, I think you're right. You know, I haven't even seen a dame in a month," Bucky said. "You and I need to find some dance partners."

"Well, we're probably not going to find them at Ebbets field," Steve said. Which was probably true. Steve didn't add that he probably wasn't going to find a dance partner anywhere in the near future. Bucky hated it when he talked like that, and he did his best to set Steve up whenever he could.

"You never know," Bucky said. "We could. Fate's a fickle friend."

September 16th, 2012, 11:26

Location: New York City, NY, USA

Williamsburg Houses, Williamsburg, Brooklyn

Sometimes Steve could almost believe that it was still the 1940s. On sleepy mornings before the world awoke, Steve could look out his window and pretend. He would have to blind himself to many of the new skyscrapers off in the distance, sure, had to ignore the styles of the cars rushing past, had to imagine instead the sound of the trolley running by…but he was still in Brooklyn. He was still on the same side of the building he'd lived on. The view was essentially the same, if one could ignore all the changes. He could imagine Bucky sleeping in the next bedroom over, could imagine Bucky barging into Steve's room and demanding they go out to Ebbets. He could almost imagine that nothing had changed, and for a few minutes on those sleepy mornings, the deliberate self-delusion was sweet, sweet relief—until it all disappeared again.

He took up more of this bed than he should have. He was more muscled than he should have been. Outside there were skyscrapers, and different cars, and vastly different fashions, and 'phones' that fit in your pocket with clear screens that responded to touch, phones that played games and kept schedules and did God-knows-what-else. Despite the late heat of mid-September, his apartment was cool from the air conditioning. The hardwood had been changed to carpet. The metal bed frame had been replaced with maple, and all the furniture in fact was new. So that sweet, sweet self-delusion never lasted more than a minute or two.

Steve dragged himself out of bed early on Sundays. He wasn't actually much of a morning person. The behavior was learned; first from Bucky, who slept less than anyone he'd ever met and never seemed the worse for it, and then from the army. So by 11:26am, Steve had already been awake for three hours and twenty-six minutes, time enough for first breakfast, church, and some reading time. He settled on the couch with a book he'd bought on his way home from lunch the other day, Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. He was already halfway through, having read quite a bit the day before. By 11:26, he was just reaching the good part. He held his breath as the Nine Riders advanced on Frodo.

"'By Elbereth and Luthien the Fair,' said Frodo with a last effort, lifting up his sword, 'you shall have neither the Ring nor me!'"

The doorbell rang, making Steve jump a little, snapping him suddenly out of the fantasy world. He put a bookmark in the novel and set it on the coffee table before opening the door. To Steve's immense surprise, Tony waltzed right in, followed swiftly by Natasha, Clint, Bruce, Pepper, and even Rhodey.

"Wha—" Steve started, but Tony and his loudmouth cut him off.

"It's Sunday!" Tony said insistently, like this meant something, and Steve should know what it was.

"Yes…" Steve said slowly, uncomprehending.

"It's movie day," Tony said, like Steve was crazy for not knowing this. "We have to catch you up on everything! Oh—Fellowship? Fantastic that's one of the films I brought. You know they're making a film of The Hobbit—uh, sorry, There and Back Again—and it's coming out in a couple of months." Steve just stood there, his hand still on the doorknob, watching as Bruce settled in his armchair, Natasha took a seat on the couch, and Clint rifled through his books. Rhodey was already at the fridge, getting out drinks, and Pepper was—oh, no—

"They're not finished!" Steve yelped as Pepper found his canvases and sketchbooks and peaked at one after the other. Steve knew what she would find—a full oil painting of Bucky, one of Peggy, and one of all the Howling Commandos raising their beers for a drink at Crocker's Folly. There was also one of Brooklyn from out of his old window as Steve remembered it. There were several charcoal drawings of Bucky and Peggy both, one of Howard Stark working in his lab, one nightmarish piece in colored pencil of the Red Skull, and several pieces done in ink of the Avengers. An embarrassing amount of them were of Tony, or of his armor. They were, in fact, finished. Steve just didn't want anyone to see them.

"I didn't know that you're an artist," Pepper said appreciatively. "These pieces are beautiful."

"Ohh, I want to see—" Clint said, rushing over, but Steve stepped in front of him, his whole face hot from embarrassment.

"No, really, they're not done," Steve said. Pleaded, really. To his surprise, Clint backed off, shrugging.

"If you say so," he said, before joining Natasha on the couch.

"I uh, I didn't know you all were coming," Steve said, as if they didn't all know that perfectly well. "I hope there's enough um, seating. And drinks and—are you guys hungry? I didn't—"

"Relax, Capsicle," Tony said. "I've got it covered." Then his mouth curled up with disgust. "That is the most outdated, ridiculous television I've ever seen. Can you even hook up a blu-ray to that dinosaur?"

"A what?"

"Ugh, nevermind. I'm buying you a new television. And better seating. If we're going to make this a regular thing they have to. I don't want to have to sit on those under pain of death let alone for recreation," Tony said. He started fiddling with the TV, though what for, Steve had no idea. Steve only knew that twenty minutes later, The Fellowship of the Ring was playing on his television, looking spectacularly real. Steve sat on the edge of the couch the whole time, sandwiched between Tony and Rhodey. Pepper sat with Natasha on the smaller sofa. Clint had claimed the armchair for his own. There weren't enough seats, so Bruce sat cross-legged on the floor in front of them. The film, ended and the credits rolled. Clint and Bruce demanded they watch the next one, so they ordered pizza, took a quick break, and then were back into movie-watching mode.

Of course, movie watching with the Avengers wasn't at all a silent affair. Clint had a tendency to boo and hiss when villains appeared, Bruce and Tony would argue about the possibility of impossible magical objects, Pepper would squeal any time something particularly horrifying happened, and Natasha often described in detail why the fighting tactics used were horribly flawed. Rhodey seemed to be the only sane one, and he would roll his eyes in sympathy at Steve whenever Tony and Bruce talked over something important and they had to rewind so that Steve could hear what was going on.

Whenever Steve asked why they were here, they all just answered the same way. It's Sunday. Pepper just gave him a knowing look, and Rhodey rolled his eyes. Late into the night, when they had finally finished the third movie, and Steve's apartment was a mess with snacks and beer and soda strewn everywhere, the Avengers (and Pepper and Rhodey) walked out of Steve's apartment just as they'd walked in—with no explanation. They just said their goodbyes and a 'see you on Saturday' as they all left together. It took Steve a minute to remember that they all lived together. They had all come over from Stark Tower, settled down in his apartment, and then left all again together, a little whirlwind in the generally uneventful new life of Steve Rogers. They had forsaken the bells and whistles of Stark Tower, the comfortable couches, the ample living space, the well-stocked fridges, the giant television screens, and the fancy sound system—all to make their way to Brooklyn and sit in his cramped little place for hours and watch films they'd all seen already.

Steve Rogers didn't really ever cry, but he might have teared up a bit that night.

December 8th, 1941, 10:03

Location: New York City, NY, USA

Ten Eyck Houses, Williamsburg, Brooklyn

"Steve. Steve. Come on, buddy, where are you going?" Bucky asked, grabbing his elbow as he passed.

"You know where I'm going Bucky," Steve said seriously. "I'm signing up." Bucky sighed.

"Steve, you already tried this once. They wouldn't take you. They won't take you," Bucky said.

"You don't know that," Steve said, shaking his head. "Different recruitment center, different examiner—and things are picking up from here, Bucky. It's war for us now. It's really war. It's a matter of hours now before they make it official. They'll be wanting to take as many men as they can." Steve hoped his words were true. If the military got desperate, they might get desperate enough to take him.

"I hope you're wrong," Bucky said. "If you're not, then they'll take you. They'll send you overseas to get shot at."

"They'll send me overseas to defend what's right," Steve said emphatically, but Bucky just got angry.

"You've been watching too many newsreels, it's not all coming up roses—"

"You think I don't know that—?"

"No I think you've vastly underestimated your chance of dying. Which is pretty damn high, Steve. They don't need comic book artists overseas. You're needed here—"

"I'm needed here? Doing what, Bucky? Drawing comics about guys punching each other? Drawing comics meant for little kids? How does that help the war effort?"

"Not everything has to be about the war—we're not even at war!"

"We got attacked yesterday you can damn well bet we're at war—"

"So what are you gonna do, go overseas, punch some Japs in the face? Because I'm pretty sure your fist isn't gonna pack much a bite and I'm pretty sure those Japs aren't gonna be armed with water guns!" Bucky snapped. Steve went quiet.

"I'm not the toughest guy out there. I'm not the biggest. But I can do my duty. I can be where I'm needed. Whether you think I can or not," Steve said. He wrenched his arm away from Bucky and opened up the door.

"Steve," Bucky called softly. Steve paused. "You're not the biggest guy, no. But you are the toughest." Steve turned and looked at him. There was only sincerity on Bucky's face, as he knew there would be.

"Thanks," Steve said, and then he was out the door.

February 13th, 2013, 03:55

Location: Toronto, Ontario, Canada

(The Remnants of) Toronto Harbor

"What the hell were you thinking?" the Captain shouted.

"Um, I was thinking that I was going to save all of our asses. Which I did. You're welcome," Iron Man replied.

"You just sank the harbor," the Captain said in horrified disbelief. "All of those boats, all of that infrastructure—gone. I told you to wait!" Tony lifted his faceplate. He was furious underneath, his mouth curled in a snarl.

"Wait for what? Wait for all of us to go up in smoke? Look, Captain, I know you're not really up on this whole technology thing, but that guy was cooking a fusion reactor with enough firepower to level anything in a one hundred and fifty mile radius—that's not just Toronto, that's Rochester, Buffalo, London—don't look at me like that, Canadian London—I don't think I have to tell you what the death toll on that would be. So, excuse me, if in sinking the damn thing, I took out some fucking boats!"

"I told you to wait because—"

At that moment thunder crashed, and lightning flashed, striking the earth mere inches from where Steve and Tony stood. It was so close that Steve could smell the singed air as Thor materialized before them. Steve may not consider him a God, but all the same he was impressive.

"I told you to wait, Tony, because I called on Thor to come and help us, so that you and he could chuck the thing harmlessly into space," Steve snapped.

"Oh, good companions, have I arrived too late?" Thor asked, confused.

"If you'd arrived too late we wouldn't be standing here," Tony said. "I don't think you quite understand the immediacy of the situation, Captain. That reaction was out of control—"

"It's been one minute, it couldn't wait one more minute? You disobeyed a direct order, Iron Man—"

"It was a shitty call!" Tony shouted.

"And it's not yours to make! Could it have waited sixty seconds? Tell me it couldn't have waited sixty seconds and you win this round," Steve said. He was the Captain, sure, but Tony was the tech expert. Tony's frown just deepened.

"I estimate…we had about five minutes to do something before it exploded," Tony said.

"So it could have waited sixty seconds."

"It was unstable," Tony griped.

"I don't care!" Steve said. "I had a plan, which if you'd waited thirty seconds, I would have told it to you."

"They're just boats. No one died."

"That we know!" Steve burst out. "What if some guy was having a bad night, decided to sleep out on their yacht instead of at home with their wife? What if someone's been living on their boat for the past year because of the recession? What if someone was getting ready for work? Just because it's docked and it's early in the morning doesn't mean that it's civilian free!"

"I scanned for life forms in the area before I sunk it," Tony snapped. "I'm not that fucking reckless—"

"It looked pretty reckless from where I'm standing!"

"They're just boats!"

"No, Tony, that's what you don't understand, that's what you're not seeing. Those boats aren't just yachts for big wigs, some of those boats are people's livelihoods, and if they've got insurance, great, but what if they don't? There's more than one way to take a life," Steve said stonily. "Not to mention what the city's going to have to pay to raise the boats, to raise the harbor, to rebuild and do god-knows-what environmental clean-up from that fusion drowning in the lake. If you'd listened to orders, you and Thor could have chucked the thing into space. I'm pretty sure if you can drown it then it's reacting to something in the atmosphere, right? So the lack of atmosphere would have snuffed it out just fine. No damages, no loss of life."

"Well excuse me for trying to do our job and save the city. I made a bad call, fine—" Tony said, still glowering, but Steve cut him off, furious.

"That's just it, Tony! It wasn't your call to make! If you want to be part of this team, you have to learn how to work with one," he said. Tony's faceplate snapped back into place.

"You don't think you need me on this team? Fine. I'm out," he said. With that, Iron Man rocketed off into the night, back to New York.

"We are not much of a team," Thor observed. Steve startled. He'd almost forgotten the Asgardian was still there.

"No, not really," Steve said with a heavy sigh. He'd never had to work with such a disparate team before. The Howling Commandos had all been army. They were conditioned to a hierarchy, knew how to operate together, move as one. But Steve had no idea how to command two super spies, an alien, a giant green monster, and a wild, techno genius in a metal suit. He pressed the comm. in his ear. "Widow, Hawkeye, report."

February 17th, 2013, 14:36

Location: New York City, NY, USA

Williamsburg Houses, Williamsburg, Brooklyn

Steve had been waiting for the day that it would happen. He'd been waiting for the day when the Avengers just wouldn't show up at his door for movie day. Over the past few months, they had settled into an easy routine—Saturdays were for sparring from eight until noon, and Sundays were for movies, from two until four or whenever everyone decided to leave. True to his word, Tony had installed a new TV and new sofas in Steve's apartment, which he had come home after work one day to find all set up for him. How in the hell Tony managed to get a bunch of workers in and out of his apartment while he was gone (and that he knew his schedule was interesting, too) Steve would never know. Steve had protested, sure, but Stark refused to take the gifts back.

"Can you honestly tell me that you liked those couches? That you were incredibly attached to that old television?" Tony had asked.

"Well, no, but—"

"Then they're staying. It's a gift, Cap, just take it for what it is."

And so Steve had. The Avengers all seemed glad for the updates, and Steve, admittedly, was too. So over these past few months, they had settled into a comfortable routine. Not everyone always showed up. Sometimes Natasha and/or Clint was missing, gone on some S.H.I.E.L.D. mission unrelated to the Avengers Initiative. Sometimes Bruce got caught up in his work in the lab at Stark Tower. Pepper and Rhodey drifted in and out, though Steve had seen less and less of Pepper as time passed—Steve thought the last time he saw her was a month ago, at least. Tony was the only constant, really. Steve didn't know how he made time for it, really, but Tony was always there, ready with about fifty different movie suggestions at the least.

Today though, it was 2:36 PM and no one had shown up. Natasha and Clint might both be on a mission, Bruce might be caught up with his work, Pepper hadn't been around much lately anyway, and Rhodey was often busy with something. Tony, of course, was still angry with him. It wasn't surprising that this had happened. But Steve still felt a little twinge of sadness as he opened up one of the packs of soda he'd bought for the afternoon and looked around his empty apartment.

Alone at last?

More like alone again.

February 24th, 2013, 14:54

Location: New York City, NY, USA

Williamsburg Houses, Williamsburg, Brooklyn

Tony hadn't come to practice on Saturday. Steve, despite their argument the previous week, had been surprised. He figured they had both blown up, but Tony would be back once they'd both cooled off, like they always did. He figured wrong. This wasn't, by far, the first time he and Tony had argued on the battlefield. Most days, it felt like it was every other mission. Steve hadn't thought this one was any different. Natasha and Clint were off on a secret mission, so they hadn't been at training either. Bruce rarely ever came, considering the Hulk couldn't exactly be trained to fight, and training Bruce to fight was pointless unless a super villain concocted a Hulk suppressant, which seemed unlikely considering not even Bruce himself had managed to do that. Thor was back on Asgard. So Steve had trained in the Triskelion gym alone until he could no longer take the not-so-subtle glances of other SHIELD agents. When all the Avengers were there, they cleared out, but with just Steve, they gawked. They were the only ones who knew who he was, and he was suddenly intensely grateful that Steve Rogers was not attached to the Captain America persona in public knowledge.

Steve had spent that Saturday alone, and now it was Sunday again, and nearly an hour past three. No one was there. He wondered if movie nights were on a temporary hold, or if they were done all together, gone as quickly as they had come. He wondered if they'd just been concerned that he was suicidal and now, thoroughly convinced he was not, they collectively decided that he wasn't worth the time. And he wasn't, Steve figured. He'd wondered why they'd bothered in the first place. They had to come all the way across town, to a cramped little apartment, just to watch old films and reruns. It wasn't worth it. Steve wasn't worth it.

February 25th, 2013, 18:37

Location: New York City, NY, USA
Stark Tower – Penthouse, Manhattan

"Oh, hi, Pepper," Steve said with a smile as the elevator doors opened and he stepped out. Pepper was going in as he was leaving. Steve's smile faded when he saw her expression, the hard line of her mouth, the tension in her brow, the fury in her eyes.

"I can't deal with him right now. Good luck," she said, jabbing the button for the ground floor. The elevator doors closed. This did not bode well. Pepper had come from their bedroom, so Steve, taking a deep breath and steeling himself, walked over to the door. It was slightly ajar.

"Tony?" Steve called out. He pushed the door open just slightly. It caught on something as it swung open, and Steve could see why. There were bits and pieces of armor everywhere, all over the floor. Tony crouched on the bed, sitting on his heels. He had one hand tangled in greasy hair, and the other, encased in a gauntlet from the suit, he stared at.

"Tony?" Steve repeated.

"What are you doing here, Steve?" Tony asked. It didn't sound like a particularly friendly question. His voice was gruff, almost raw. His eyes looked red, and his usually meticulously trimmed goatee was stubbly in the wrong places. He didn't look up at Steve's arrival.

"You weren't at practice on Saturday," Steve said cautiously.

"You think you can do just fine without me—better, even, so why should I bother, Rogers?" Tony asked. There was no particular venom in his tone, merely contempt. He fiddled with a screwdriver, adjusting something on the gauntlet. Steve frowned.

"Tony, that wasn't what I said at all—"

"And you know what? I have better things to do with my time anyway," Tony continued, talking over him. "You people seem to forget I have a multi-billion dollar company that I have to run. This whole Avengers gig was on my own time because frankly SHIELD can't afford me. I have tech to develop. I have a girlfriend to make time with. I have parties and shindigs and any number of press conferences to go to so you know what? If you think you don't need me, then that's just fine. I'm out."

"Tony, that's not what I said!" Steve said, exasperated. The other man just gave him a hard look. Obviously, that had been what Tony had taken away from their argument. "I was angry that you defied orders, but I never said we were better off without you!"

"I don't remember inviting you over," Tony said. He lifted his arm, finagled with the screwdriver, and the repulsor went off. Steve was glad that the weapon was noisy, otherwise he wouldn't have jumped out of the way in time. Steve just stared at Tony, wide-eyed, momentarily stunned. Tony looked back at him, his face unreadable. He shrugged. "Sorry. Testing. So unpredictable."

"This isn't the first time I've been shot at for the sake of 'testing'. I know when to take a hint," Steve said, shaking off his surprise. He looked Tony up and down. He was a mess. "Come back when you're ready. We'll be waiting for you. Take care of yourself, Tony." Steve turned on his heel and left. There was a niggling feeling in his gut. Something was off. Something was wrong.

Of course, it didn't take a genius to see that. Tony wasn't coming to practice, he'd shot at Steve, his room was in shambles, and he looked like he hadn't showered in days. But Steve knew that this couldn't just be about their argument. Something else was very wrong. Steve was worried.

February 27th, 2013, 13:08

Location: New York City, NY, USA

90th Precinct NYPD, Williamsburg, Brooklyn

"You know Rogers, you've been working here part time for what, eight, nine months now, and I don't think any one of us knows a damn thing about you," said Ty. Steve, who had been packing away his sketchpad in his duffel bag, looked up. Ty Watson was about his height, about his age, and had a decent build. He had to, as a police officer. His black hair was cropped close in a buzz cut. Ty was usually around doing paperwork ("Mounds and mounds and mounds of paperwork. I'm drowning in it, Rogers," Ty had complained to him once, and his complaints ever after usually echoed that one) during Steve's shifts, though Steve got the impression that he did see a lot of action on patrol. Ty stared at him with expectant green eyes.

"I like baseball. I can sketch ok. I hate sushi. What more is there to know?" Steve said with a slight smile. Ty rolled his eyes.

"Oh, I don't know, maybe literally anything else," he said. "You're like an enigma, Rogers." Steve laughed.

"That's a new one. Don't think I've ever gotten that particular label before. Why don't you just tell me what you want to know?" Steve asked. Ty grinned.

"Well, I would, see, but I've got a whole heap of paperwork to do and my break's almost over. Why don't we talk about you over drinks later?" Ty said, sounding a bit coy. Steve regarded him carefully. He wasn't sure what he was begin asked, really.

"Any of the other guys coming?" he asked. Ty shook his head.

"Just you and me. How about it?" he said.

"Is this…are you…" Steve couldn't get the words out, but Ty's grin just got bigger.

"'Is this like a date? Are you asking me out?' Yes and yes," he said. Then suddenly his smile vanished. "Unless you're taken, of course. I just didn't see a ring and you seem like the marrying kind. So I guess this is a huge gamble, but I'm willing to risk it. Or I was a minute ago. Now I'm a little worried."

"How do you know if I'm even into guys?" Steve asked, more out of curiosity than anything else. Ty just smirked.

"So I just imagined you ogling my ass then?" he asked. Steve's face turned bright red.

"I—"

"Say yes to drinks and I promise you can ogle my ass as much as you want," Ty said, saving him the embarrassment. Steve just chuckled and shook his head.

"Fine, you're on," he said, picking up the duffel bag and adjusting the strap on his shoulder.

"Seven at McCauley's work for you?" Ty asked. Steve nodded.

"Sure," he said, and then he left the precinct, feeling oddly light.

February 14th, 1942

Location: New York City, NY, USA

McCauley's Irish Pub, Brooklyn

"Ok, what about those two over there?" Bucky asked, nodding to a pair of girls having a quiet drink at another table. One had long red hair, and the other was a brunette. Steve knew which Bucky would be after.

"You know I'll come with you no matter who you choose," Steve said. He took a gulp of his beer as Bucky shook his head.

"No but who do you like?" he asked. Steve shrugged.

"It doesn't really matter."

"Aw, come on, Steve. You don't know that. You just have to let some nice girl get to know you, that's all—"

"Because girls are always so interested in getting to know me better," Steve said. He wasn't bitter so much as resigned. Dames took one look at him and either outright made a face or gave him a strained, polite smile.

"Well maybe if you were a bit smoother is all," Bucky said, getting up. "And being smooth takes practice. Come on, let's go introduce ourselves." They walked over. Bucky was all smiles and clever lines, romancing the red head with an easy charm that Steve simply didn't have. Steve, for his part, introduced himself politely to the brunette.

Ah, polite, strained smile it was.

February 27th, 2013

Location: New York City, NY, USA

McCauley's Irish Pub, Brooklyn

Steve saw ghosts just about everywhere he went. In this part of Brooklyn especially, he saw them everywhere. He saw Mrs. O'Malia carrying groceries, saw little Johnny Brandt throwing a baseball to William Mason with his little sister, Emma Brandt, begging to be thrown the ball just once as they played monkey in the middle. But this pub in particular held many ghosts for Steve. He saw Bucky, flirting with a blonde, saw Thomas White serving behind the bar. He heard Maggie Mayhew turn down his invitation to go dancing, heard Dick Waldorf shouting bile at Michael and Hannah Lerner for being Jews, felt the sting of the shiner he'd earned for telling him to shut up and sit down. This town was filled with ghosts Steve could not escape. Sometimes he wondered if he should leave, but whenever he contemplated it he felt more hollow and empty than he ever had before.

Sometimes Steve Rogers thought he was a collection of fragments, nothing more. He was bits and pieces of memory, of remembered quotes and scraps of ideology. He was the Howling Commando's tavern songs, he was Peggy's laugh and Bucky's grin. He was Brooklyn, he was 1944, he was a soldier, he was a Captain. But his scraps no longer line up with the world. He was a photo album, a museum piece, a history book. He did not belong. His home was gone, so why was he still here?

It was strange, to sit in the pub he remembered. All of the chairs and tables had been replaced, as had the flooring and the wallpaper, but the configuration was still the same, and the bar itself was undoubtedly the original. Photos lined the walls, a monument to the history of McCauley's (est. 1881). There were sepia photos of its opening, black and white photos of WWI and WWII soldiers in drinking in uniform. Steve looked hard at one of them, surprised to find that he remembered that day. He glimpsed himself and Bucky off in the background, moments before things got ugly. Steve hadn't even realized that they'd been n the background of that photo. He found it oddly comforting to find it, to know that this pub remembered him just as he remembered it. He was acknowledged, remembered back. It was a feeling of reciprocity Steve hadn't felt in months.

"July 16, 1942," said a smooth voice behind him. Steve turned to find Ty nodding at the picture. "Johnny—he's the bartender here—told me a while back that just after this photo was taken there was some huge brawl."

"I know," Steve said, almost automatically, then had to backtrack at Ty's curious expression. "I'm uh, a bit of a local history buff."

"Likes baseball, good at sketching, hates sushi, and knows oddly specific historical facts about Brooklyn," Ty said with a grin. "Glad I can add it to the list, but I can't say that you're any less of an enigma. Why the local history?" Ty steered him to the bar where they picked up a couple of pints before finding a quiet table and taking a seat.

"I've just got a thing for the 20s, 30s, and 40s," Steve said honestly.

"Oh, prohibition, depression, and the Second World War. An interesting period for sure. Why Brooklyn?" Ty asked.

"It's home," Steve replied.

"So you grew up here."

"Yes, did you?" Steve asked. Ty shook his head, and Steve felt relieved. He didn't know anything about Brooklyn in the 80s, 90s, or early 2000s.

"I grew up in Queens," Ty said. "I moved out here when I got assigned this precinct, but I still feel like a Queens boy, you know? My parents still live there. Do yours?" Ty then gave him a playfully suspicious glance. "You're not still living in your parents' basement, are you? 'Cause you know what they say about those weirdos, and I'd rather not find myself at the bottom of the Hudson one of these days. Unless it's from fighting the Mafia. Then it'd be cool, but 'I was murdered by a psychopath who lives with his mother' doesn't have nearly as awesome a ring to it as an epitaph." Steve smiled.

"No, no, I don't live with my parents. They died when I was young," he said. Ty's face crumpled, and Steve cursed himself for being depressing again.

"Oh, man, I'm sorry," he said. Steve waved his hand.

"It was a long time ago, don't worry about it," he said. A really long time ago.

"So you…grew up in foster care, then?" Ty asked tentatively. Steve had no idea if he would have. He'd spent his time from twelve to eighteen in an orphanage, where he'd met Bucky. Did they still have orphanages? Steve had no idea.

"We don't need to talk about it; that's all in the past," Steve said, trying to divert the conversation tactfully. "I'd be more interested to know about why you decided to become a police officer." Thankfully, Ty took the cue, and he launched into a moving story about his older brother who went into the army because he wanted to protect people and died while evacuating a school in Afghanistan.

"By the time I was old enough to join up, I wasn't sure that I believed in the cause anymore. But I still wanted to follow my brother's legacy. I wanted to protect people, wanted to do good, wanted to help my community. So I signed up for the police academy," he finished. Their pints were half-empty by that point. "Now I have another question for you, Mr. Enigma: Why does a guy with a body like that work as a sketch artist? Or perhaps my question should be, how does a sketch artist obtain a body like that?" Steve did not miss that Ty was openly, appreciatively leering. Steve didn't mind, and he was grateful that for this question, at least, he had a prepared answer.

"I was in the army," he said. SHIELD had given him a whole false background—enlisted at eighteen, promoted by twenty, spent six more years serving before getting honorably discharged for a previously undetected heart murmur. Rhodey had given him insight into conditions in Afghanistan to make his story plausible, and SHIELD had given him an entire imaginary troop with missions and accomplishments—all of which would be debunked by anyone who had ever actually been in Afghanistan, but, on paper at least, he was still Captain Steven G. Rogers. Steve thought it was a rather lot of military history to be given, especially since he only actually served for a single year. But he supposed it simplified his background.

"Oh yeah? How long?" Ty asked.

"Eight years," Steve replied. "Captain of the first battalion of the one-oh-seventh." Of course, the 107th was no longer operational, but that made it perfect for SHIELD to give to him as a symbolic gesture.

"Wow, eight—? Wow. Why'd you leave?"

"Honorable discharge. They found a heart murmur no one had noticed before. After that I just ended up back home," Steve said with a shrug. "I'd always been good at art, so, here we are."

"So I guess now I have to call you 'Captain' Enigma, huh?" Ty asked, that playful grin having returned to his face. Steve just downed the last of his pint and chuckled.

"I'm still an enigma? How do you know there's anything more to me? I could just be extremely boring," Steve said.

"Nah. And hey, if you are, just keep playing it off all mysteriously anyway. It'll work wonders for you," Ty advised, draining his own pint. "So. What do you say to a second round?"

"I say we get one," Steve replied. Ty's eyes lit up, and so Steve grabbed both of their pints and headed over to the bar for a refill. Ty was nice. This was nice. It was, more importantly, a moment that was alive. He would have to make new memories, and, really, Ty wouldn't be a bad place to start.